ANN BAILEY: Good-bye to a family friendIn the early 1880s, 16-year-old Ellen Kelly came to North Dakota from New York with the Cooley family, one of the founders of the Cream of Wheat company in Grand Forks.
In the early 1880s, 16-year-old Ellen Kelly came to North Dakota from New York with the Cooley family, one of the founders of the Cream of Wheat company in Grand Forks.
She worked for the Cooleys for a few years before buying a quarter of land southeast of Larimore, N.D., and marrying Alexander Sweeney, who had moved to the area from Sioux City, Iowa.
The couple had five children, one of them my grandfather, James “Jay” Sweeney, who was born in 1896. He grew up with his family on the farm, and then, after he was married, moved with my grandma, Anna, 2½ miles down the road to the farm where she grew up. They raised their daughter, my mom, Marcia, there.
My mom graduated from Larimore High School in 1941, and, a few years later, moved to Great Falls, Mont., where she met and married my dad, Adrian.
In 1950, my mom, dad and my two older brothers, who were born in Great Falls, moved back to North Dakota to the farm where my grandpa grew up. Another brother, my sister and I were raised on the farm along with my two older brothers.
Home Sweet Home
The farm was a great place to grow up. The farmstead, which is about a quarter mile from a creek called Hazen Brook, had a big red barn with a loft that was filled to the rafters with hay, a couple of wooden granaries, a chicken house, a shop and, of course, a two-story farmhouse. I worked with my dad baling hay and feeding cattle, and helped my mom garden and cook. For fun we built forts in the hayloft, waded in the creek and went horseback riding.
Throughout the past 125 years my family lived on the farm, they were good caretakers of it, keeping the “out” buildings in good repair, and painting and remodeling the house several times. However, the past quarter century Mother Nature has taken a toll on the house. Consecutive years of heavy rains resulted in high ground water levels that flooded the basement floor and eroded the fieldstone walls.
Two years ago, despite running three sump pumps 24 hours a day, 6 inches of water covered the basement floor for several months. The water dried up last summer, but mold grew to replace it, not only in the basement but also on the kitchen cabinets and walls.
Sorting it out
Our parents are deceased, and, because there has been so much damage to the house, my brothers, sister and I have agreed the best thing to do is to demolish it this spring. During the past year, we’ve been working to remove the valuables, which include a few things with monetary value and many more, such as family photo albums, my mom’s cookbooks and my dad’s birth certificate, which have sentimental value.
As anyone who has sorted through their parents’ or other loved ones’ belongings knows, it is an overwhelming job. Trying to decide what to throw away and what to keep from 60 years of living in the same house is a daunting task.
It also is heartbreaking. When I’m in the kitchen packing up my mom’s cookbooks, I have to blink back tears as I recall her standing at the counter making her family dinner. As I look through the farm business files in my dad’s cabinet, I get misty-eyed thinking about all of the times I rode in the tractor or combine with him and talked about my day at school.
Soon the sorting will be finished, and, within the next two months, the house will be gone. As painful as it is to say good-bye to the house, I am grateful that I grew up in the family who lived within its four walls for so many years.
Reach Bailey at email@example.com or (218) 779-8093.